Frankenstein, Dracula and Pynchon

As most of us have learned throughout our reading of this novel, Pynchon is obviously no stranger to allusions, literary or otherwise. In my first post, I briefly touched on a possible allusion to film by connecting the Adenoid to the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator in which Chaplin played a dictator, influenced by Hitler, named Adenoid Hynkel. I decided to continue my research in the allusions to film found in Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

Throughout my research, consulting Weisenburger’s companion, the Pynchon Wiki and the World Wide Web, I discovered that Pynchon alludes to many Universal horror films in his novel. Specifically, for the sake of length, I will be focusing on his allusions to 1931’s Dracula and 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. In the novel, Pynchon writes that Osbie Feel’s body language was reminiscent of Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, another film reference from Pynchon (108). Bela Lugosi, apart from acting in White Zombie was also Dracula in the 1931 Universal horror classic Dracula.

In addition, Lugosi played a lead role in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, a sequel to the horror milestone Frankenstein. So there you have it. With one stone, Pynchon has managed to allude to three movies, all sharing the same actor. And as I have come to know, nothing is purely coincidental in Pynchon’s whimsical world. In another section of the novel, Pynchon writes, “Roger peered over the wheel, hunched Dracula-style inside his Burberry” (38).

Again, Pynchon has referenced the 1931 film Dracula, and through use of the internet and Weisenburger’s companion, I have found that Pynchon continues to reference Frankenstein, Dracula and Bela Lugosi throughout his novel, putting an end to the suspicion I had that these were very well-thought out allusions to the golden age of Universal horror films.

Both of these films are, interestingly enough, chronologically consistent, as they were released prior to the end of the Second World War. This led me to believe that maybe Pynchon was just using these allusions to reinforce the timeframe or to draw more realism into the novel. Although Pynchon may have used these allusions to set the time, I do not believe this was the only reason. Why would Pynchon want to set the timeframe a hundred or so pages into the novel? He wouldn’t.

I think that Pynchon alludes to these classic horror films as parallels to the world he has created: an almost cartoonish world in which monsters exist, but realistic enough to scare people. Pynchon’s novel arguably fits these criteria as well, a world in which bananas are in every item possible for breakfast, but also a world in which rockets explode before one can hear them. A scary, surreal world.

Perhaps these references to these films is also a commentary on why those films were so influential. Let me explain. The films referenced above were both made during WWII and were widely successful. Maybe these films were so successful not solely due to the scares and special effects, but due to the parallels these horror movies made with the ongoing war. Pynchon’s references may simply be further connecting these parallels and bringing them into the narrative.

Again, my thoughts on these matters are again, only mine. I’d like to see what you guys have to say on the matter. Feel free to comment and like.


Works Cited

“Dracula.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014. <;.

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York, NY: Penguin, 2006. Print.

“Son of Frankenstein.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014. <;.

“Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).” Movie References. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014. <;.

Weisenburger, Steven. A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel. Athens: University of Georgia, 2006. Print.

Wood, Robin. “The American Nightmare Horror in the 70s.” (n.d.): 25-32. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

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5 Responses to Frankenstein, Dracula and Pynchon

  1. moniquebriones2014 says:

    “Maybe these films were so successful not solely due to the scares and special effects, but due to the parallels these horror movies made with the ongoing war.”

    I read an article called “Resurrecting and updating the teen slasher: the case of Scream” by Valerie Wee for a pop culture class that supports your claim (and I’d highly recommend it, it’s a very fun read!). The gist of the article is that after Columbine, slasher films (particularly the Scream franchise) became more popular. The fear of the killer among us, the anxieties of adolescence, bullying, the fear of useless supervisors and other adult figures, and other everyday terrors the American teen faces were something that audiences wanted to see. While the entire article is a goldmine of what makes the horror genre popular, some highlights are that “horror renaturalizes the repressed by transmuting the ‘natural’ elements of everyday life into the unnatural form of the monster […]. This transmutation renders the terrors of everyday life at least emotionally accessible” and “each decade embraces the monsters that speak to it.”

    With Columbine, it was unstable, lonely, homicidal teenagers that people were scared of. I’ve heard it argued that our current zombie infatuation materializes a modern fear of biological warfare/an unstoppable disease beyond our control and knowledge (as well as the fear of self and turning on loved ones when friends and family turn into zombies). Dracula and Frankenstein could be tied to . . . pre-war and wartime anxieties of the intruder in your home and the abominations science is capable of, respectively? I can’t say for sure what these monsters meant to WWII movie-goers, but I do think that you’re right about them having parallels about wartime fears.

    (Here’s a link to the article if it works: If it doesn’t work, then Pitt has access.)

    • Monique, if you’re interested in what (at least to me) is an even more interesting reading of zombies than as a manifestation of our fear of contagion, check out Sara Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry’s “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” It was published in boundary 2 in 2008:

      • moniquebriones2014 says:

        I’m not sure what I find more unsettling; what the zombie represents or what it entails for our society. The killing of the individual being made so tangible through a zombie getting killed by destroying its brain was really thought-provoking.

        I’m a little lost by the seemingly on-going debate of “the posthuman,” however. What is this concept?

      • That is a huge question. In terms of SF, one answer might be that it’s what happens when it becomes impossible to separate a human’s ontological Being from technology–Donna Harraway on Cyborgs and N. Katherine Hayles’s book How We Became Posthuman are great places to start if you’re interested in the posthuman.

  2. patriciafox17 says:

    After I did a few Google searches, I discovered that Pynchon refers to Lugosi in Against the Day as well. On the ATD Wiki page, Lugosi was mentioned under binarisms in names included in the novel. It would appear that Pynchon certainly found the actor compelling, or perhaps more so, the movies he starred in: The White Zombie, The Raven, The Black Cat, The Black Sheep, and Dracula “The Prince of Darkness.” And there is the binarism: light and dark. That theme of light and dark has been touched on in class before, but the fact that the mere name of an actor can build that particular theme absolutely blows my mind. In Gravity’s Rainbow, maybe Lugosi embodies the human tendency to dwell both in the dark and in the light. I’m still trying to work out exactly what I think the relationship between light and dark is in the novel, but I’d guess that Pynchon might be saying that it’s possible to exist in both regions or at least alternate between them–possibly without knowing it. On page 642, he actually refers to a fading/flickering lightbulb as being “a train of imperceptible light and dark.” And then there’s the more apparent tie in to the White Visitation. As I continue reading, I’ll be sure to note the other ways Pynchon develops this particualr binarism, which is one of several.

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